You wouldn’t turn up to a first date in your pajamas, even if they were a true reflection of your personality.
Similarly, we always make an effort to show our best side when applying for jobs, but the mistake a lot of people make is thinking that the interview is their chance to make a good first impression.
Before you even open the door to the interview room, the interviewer will already have your resume in their hand and subjected you to multiple stages of screening. So it’s already too late to make that all important first impression.
In fact the first thing the hiring manager is looking for in your resume is a reason to reject you as quickly as possible; to get the list down from hundreds of applicants to a more manageable number. That means no silly fonts, no childish email accounts, and as we’ll see no regrettable Facebook posts.
We’ll cover some of the surprising reasons why candidates get rejected and how you can make sure this doesn’t happen to you, so good luck, and let us know if any of the tips help you get hired.
1. Your font is too funky
You may be tempted to shake things up a little in an effort to make your resume stand out, but a font is probably not the best place to show your character.
Many recruiters will simply throw any crazy looking resumes straight in the trash.
If you’re applying for a job in the creative industry then a little quirkiness is fine, but there are so many other ways to show your personality than font choice alone.
It may not be worth the risk using a non-standard font, as your resume could look garbled if your potential employer doesn’t have your font installed on their computer.
Pro-tip: Barbara Safani, the author of “Happy About My Resume”, recommends sticking with Arial as a safe bet as it’s clean and easy to read and perhaps most importantly widely distributed across operating systems, meaning whether it’s viewed on a Mac or a PC your resume will look as you intended.1
2. Think twice before posting on Facebook
With roughly one fifth of the world’s population now on Facebook, there’s a pretty good chance your boss is on there too.
But more worryingly, a staggering 91% of recruiters are screening candidates based on their social network activity according to a study by Reppler.
Even if you get the job, you still need to tread carefully.
So if you’re the kind of person who subscribes to everything and then uses 140 characters to vent your frustration, you may want to think again before adding your boss as a friend. Otherwise you run the risk of becoming the subject of a new internet meme just like this infamous new recruit:
Pro-tip: Before you apply for that dream job, you may want to check your privacy settings and do a quick tidy up of your online activity. Even allowing just mutual friends to access your profile may be too much, especially if you know people already working there.
3. You’re still using Hotmail
If you subscribe to the belief that sticking with the same email address for over a decade shows you’ve got staying power, then read on.
When you list your contact details as “firstname.lastname@example.org” you’re not only giving away your age, but the fact that you’re lazy and don’t really care about your professional image.
So, it’s probably about time you ditch your old high school moniker, and go for something a little more grown up and responsible.
And unless you’re applying for a job at Microsoft, a Gmail account is probably best. But you don’t have to give up your old Yahoo or Hotmail accounts if your life depends on them.
Both services allow you to create aliases, meaning you use the same username and password, and can even create a professional sounding alias where all your callbacks get sent into a single folder.
Pro-tip: If you’re creating an alias in Hotmail, why not choose a new address ending in outlook.com? As it’s newer you’re much more likely to get a decent name that hasn’t been taken and it sounds a whole lot more professional too. Win, win.
Pro-tip: If you know what you’re doing, investing in your own domain name, email@example.com could be just the detail you need to move that little bit closer to the top of the resume pile.
4. Your appearance
Although we’d hope for this to be a relic of the past, employers still, and probably always will, use a bit of their gut feeling when trying to whittle down candidates.
So if you feel the need to provide a photo, your appearance is going to have a big impact on how you’re perceived.
A 2013 Italian study found that beautiful men and women were far more likely to receive callbacks compared to their otherwise identical but less attractive clones when their resumes contained a picture.2
So if you’re not a looker, you might want to think again before including a mug shot.
But there’s good news if this has got you feeling down in the dumps. It seems that beauty isn’t always an advantage.
A 2011 study suggests that when the applicant is the same sex as the interviewer then being beautiful can actually prevent you from getting hired.3 The authors point to evolutionary psychology, suggesting a Darwinian motive behind beautiful applicants being turned away as they are perceived as a threat by their same sex interviewers.
Pro-tip: Regardless of whether or not you look like a supermodel, you might want to try growing a beard. Sounds crazy right? But you will like this…a guy on Upwork (previously oDesk) did exactly that by adding a beard to his photo and seeing if it helped.4
5. Your age
Across most of the world it’s illegal to discriminate against an applicant based on their age.
But tackling age discrimination in the workplace is incredibly difficult, because with age also comes experience.
This is precisely the reason that many employers are deterred from employing younger applicants and fresh college grads. In fact the main requirements that employers find lacking in younger applicants are communication and interpersonal skills.
Which means that even if you’ve got the social skills of Barney Stinson you may have been tarred with the same brush as other young applicants.
If this is the case you may want to look at ways of appearing a bit wiser, but without lying about your age.
As we’ve already learnt, making sure your email address doesn’t offer any clues and even growing a beard may help. But the main giveaway will be when you finished your education.
It seems career coaches are divided on this one. Some say that omitting your years of education could actually draw attention to your age, while others recommend omitting start and finish dates completely.
Pro-tip: If you feel you’re getting turned away because you’re too young, there’s no harm in trying a resume without your start and finish dates. Also under the usual employment history section why not list details of school work experience or volunteer work, highlighting specific skills you’ve learnt along the way.
Similarly, if you think you’re getting turned away because you’re too old, you can use the same tricks as above, and in addition you’ll probably not want to list more than 10-15 years of work experience.
While you may not like cutting out experience from 20 years ago, it will leave you more room to go into better detail with your more recent experience as ideally you don’t want your resume to be more than two pages long.
If you have a lot of work experience, use it to your advantage by taking the time to carefully research and select companies or roles where your experience is indispensable. Targeting your resume to a few highly relevant positions can be more effective than sending out a more generic resume to 100s of positions that you’re less well suited to.
For example a startup or a small company often won’t have the time or resources to train someone younger and would prefer hiring someone who can hit the ground running.
And of course probably the most important feather in your mature cap is the network you’ve spent years building. New graduates often complain about not being able to get on the first rung of the corporate ladder because so many doors remain closed to them.
Pro-tip: Reach out to your network and see if there are any jobs that aren’t being publicly advertised. As much as 95% of job vacancies are never advertised, so the bigger network you’ve grown over the years, the bigger the advantage you have over younger applicants.
6. Too many hobbies
Yes, no one wants to employ a “Plain Jane”.
Hence, it’s common for companies to seek out well-rounded individuals with a little bit of character. But having too many hobbies may be harming your applications, as it can make you appear uncommitted to your work.
Remember that you want your resume to impress, which means every line is precious real estate. You shouldn’t be wasting it on hobbies that aren’t relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Michelle Lopez, a career consultant at One2One Resumes, even recommends omitting your hobbies entirely as it leaves a lot of room for employers to prejudge you based on their own personal experiences.5 She recalls how one applicant was ruled out for being into body building, simply because the manager had previously hired a body builder who took too much time off training.
Pro-tip: Having a second set of eyes look over your resume is always a good idea, but sometimes a friend will be biased in their opinions. Why not ask a mutual friend or one of your partner’s work colleagues what impression your rock climbing gives? You may think it makes you sound adventurous but the HR department may see you as a health coverage liability.
7. Too much job hopping
Being restless is a big turn off, especially for companies who are looking to fill long-term positions.
According to staffing firm Robert Half, HR managers begin to worry when seeing more than 5 jobs in a 10 year period. So if you think that you may have changed positions a few too many times, you’d probably be better off omitting the shorter stints.
Pro-tip: If you feel the need to cut out a few less important jobs, then rather than detailing the month you started and left each company, just put the year so that there aren’t any gaping holes in your work history.
8. Gaps in employment
Whether you’ve been forced to press pause during your career or you actively decided to take some time off, you need to show the recruiter that you used this time productively.
Regardless of why you were off work, list some of the new skills you acquired during this period, particularly if you feel these skills will give you the edge over someone else.
Pro-tip: If you’re currently unemployed it might be worth doing some volunteer work or studying towards a qualification which can be shown on paper to fill the void left by a lack of work.
An employer would much rather see that you attended a language school part-time than see a gaping hole in your resume. And with the advent of online universities and websites like Coursera, Khan Academy and Udacity there’s no better time to subscribe to all the free programs you can to expand your mind.
9. Your ego
While “Fake it until you make it” is an adage that seems to be thrown around a lot these days, nothing beats authenticity and showing your true colors.
While you may be able to fool your parents about how important your current job is, a recruiter will see straight through your inflated job title of “Refreshments and Nutrition Technician”.
Remember a recruiter’s job is to look at resumes all day, so although a little exaggeration is fine, padding your resume with lies is going to be obvious.
And even if you manage to slip past the recruiter, you’ll likely trip up during the interview stage.
There’s an urban legend that an applicant for Cambridge University falsely listed “underwater basket weaving” as a hobby and to his dismay was interviewed by the only known underwater basket weaver in Britain at the time.
Pro-tip: It’s best to err on the safe side of caution and focus on your strengths wherever possible. Recruiters are more likely to send the blatant fabrications straight in the trash and give the honest resumes a chance.
A young graduate called Benedict Le Gauche has widely become known as having the worst resume in the world. His sincerity and candor paid off though and actually earned him a couple of interviews…although he probably took things a little far:
10. No cover letter
Sending out a cover letter in addition to your formal resume is always a good idea.
But if you’re applying for a job online it’s not always possible to include a cover letter in the traditional format.
So if you’re really serious about a job why not add a video cover letter to make yourself stand out? At Staff.com, we encourage contractors to upload a video of themselves as it’s the best way for an employer to gauge communication skills and language ability.
Video cover letters are becoming increasingly popular and an employer in the UK recently tried making them compulsory.
Here’s a budding comedian’s joke response that unfortunately didn’t get him a job at PC World, but did gain him exposure for his YouTube channel:
Pro-tip: Perhaps the most important reason for adding a video is get more employers reading your resume.
We’ve found that Staff.com profiles with videos are 3 times more likely to be clicked on than profiles without. So why not spend a few minutes to make yourself stand out that little more? It could be that one thing that gets you hired.
The one thing we can learn from all of this, is that there’s no such thing as “the perfect resume”.
And landing your dream job will take time and maybe a little bit of trial and error.
It’s perfectly natural to trip up a few times along the way, but so long as you learn from your mistakes you’ll be well on your way.
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Happy job hunting and good luck!
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